Download PDF by Steven J. Dick & Mark L. Lupisella: Cosmos and Culture

By Steven J. Dick & Mark L. Lupisella

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Example text

As shown in Figure 5, energy-flow diagnostics display a clear increase in complexity among various plants that best locally and temporarily the normal entropy process: photosynthesis operates more efficiently in flowering angiosperms than in gymnosperms or algae and, in turn, more efficiently still for more organized, cultivated (C4) crops such as corn and sugarcane. Similar trends are apparent for animals, yet with even higher and rising energy rate densities along a broad evolutionary sequence spanning protocells, prokaryotes, ectotherms, and endotherms.

At face value, the second law of thermodynamics—arguably the most cherished principle in all of physics—practically prohibits systems from changing spontaneously toward more ordered states. Structures left alone naturally tend to break down and increase entropy. When unattended, for example, domestic households grow more disorderly: lawns become unkempt, stoves greasy, roofs leaky. Even human beings who fail to eat gradually become less ordered and die; and when we die we decay to ultimate disorder, thereby returning our elemental resources to Earth and the universe that gave us life.

By crossing certain energy thresholds that depend on a system’s status, bifurcations can occur, fostering the emergence of whole new hierarchies of novel structures that display surprising amounts of coherent behavior. Such dissipative structures can export some of their entropy (or dissipate some of their energy) into their external environments. Accordingly, order is often created and sustained by routine consumption of substances rich in energy, accompanied by a discharge of substances low in energy.

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Cosmos and Culture by Steven J. Dick & Mark L. Lupisella


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